Saturday, March 7, 2009

Benefits of Structure

In my life I have been very suspicious of structure. Admittedly it can be seen as a great homogenizer, and I appreciate individuality. When I was in school I remember thinking that that was what some design schools were doing with their rigorous programs: creating uniformly fastidious cogs. There didn’t seem to be the freedom of artistic expression there. So I went to art school instead, and I was free to create what I wanted with very little interference.

However, it is a benefit for a vine to have something to climb on. With the support of the structure it can stand much higher than it might have without it, and it can even show a beauty it wouldn’t have otherwise. Similarly, people can come together and create structures that help one another out. What we build together affects who we are as individuals. Who we are as individuals affects how we build.

Learning an existing structure forces you to step outside of yourself. This process enables growth. This is like when you go to a yoga class and the teacher teaches a pose you know, but does it differently than you are used to practicing it. You can either try the new way, which can potentially deepen your experience, or you can practice it the same old way. It is a choice.

An important prerequisite to entering a social structure is having a good sense of (and confidence in) your identity. In the past I have not always felt safe in groups, but I think things are different now for me. Over the last few years I have allowed myself to know myself. My old failing was that I was a people-pleaser to the core, and was operating under the principal that if people liked me then I could have what I wanted in life. But really I was selling myself out.

I have also experimented with almost becoming an anti-people-pleaser, doing mostly what I wanted, and living a very unstructured existence. This approach isn’t so good because it provides fertile ground for bad habits to grow. We are social beings, and need to learn to come together in positive ways. And I think we can do better with the support of others as long as we can maintain ourselves in the process.

In the past it didn’t feel safe for me to engage with certain people because I needed them to like me. What a disadvantage this is! There have been plenty of people throughout my life who haven’t liked me (and gratefully, many who have). But, that doesn’t mean that I should have rolled over and died (which I felt like doing)! It’s just the truth: some people didn’t care for me (and some still don’t).

To participate in a social structure a person needs to be able to work with people they like and those they don’t like. When we come together to create something larger than ourselves we need the talents of everyone involved. So it does mean accepting those who like us, and those who don’t.

I have taken the time I needed to honor myself in what was a turbulent sea of self-loathing, and I will try to see through the spiteful eye of another to my own heart-full understanding.


RB said...

To speak to the idea of people who don't like you: Today in my immersion, my teacher recommended dedicating practice to someone who's giving you a hard time, rather than the traditional person you love or cherish. I thought it was an interesting idea.

Anonymous said...

Something I've learned over the years as a swimmer and then a dancer, then doing martial arts and finally yoga... is that structure is your friend.

It might not seem that way at the time, but through discipline (as provided by structure), we can find true spontaneity.

Through familiarity, comes intimacy. With our minds, our movements, our bodies, emotions etc... and so we know how to handle given situtations.

But more than that, much more... when we come upon a situation we are unfamiliar with, our training, the structures we are skilled in, help us assess and deal with those we don't.

As a dancer, that means I can dance to any music, live or taped. My body responds to what I hear, with movements I understand as well as those that are born in the moment, a combination of my experience from practicing certain things over and over, and the wonder of hearing a certain rythym for the first time.

Something is born, and it is truly free.

Unknown said...

I love this, You are only as great as what you choose to ALIGN with.
Love the blog, have a wonderful weekend!

Anonymous said...

I spent most of my adolescence wishing that people who scorned and tormented me would accept and like me. I consider that one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made. I also made the mistake of then becoming an anti-people pleaser--though, perhaps "mistake" isn't the right word. Maybe all that self-loathing needed to be balanced out with some loathing of other people for a while (though I wish I'd kept it to venting through thinking and writing rather than being as mean to people as I've been at times).

Not long ago, I was reading a lot of Krishnamurti, who argues against any and every structured discipline, seeing any formal structure of practice, ideas, or belief as a hindrance to real self-realization. I agree with him in theory, but, ultimately, can say that just drifting through life and waiting for an enlightened lightning bolt to strike me hasn't worked so well. I think the key is not to mistake the structure for the goal. There's nothing inherently spiritual in my yoga practice, and I'm not gonna get anywhere by buying lots of yoga merchandise, self-consciously talking the yoga talk, dropping the names of famous yogis, or simply taking on the identity of a yogi--however, the structure of it does give me something to momentarily (if if that particulary "moment" takes years and years) hold on to, and, if I don't have that, I know from experience that I'm gonna grab onto something else, and it's probably gonna be something considerably less healthy (like marijuana, alcohol, etc.). The key is simply to understand that that's what it is...something for the vine to climb on is a beautiful metaphor.